The politics of wishful thinking

Around 1,500 marched from central London to the Imperial War Museum last Saturday under the banner of stopping the 'war on asylum-seekers' on June 22. This was a disappointing turnout for a reasonably well publicised event, the demonstrators consisting overwhelmingly of the organised left, and little else. Speakers at the rally included Louise Christian, who called for a fight for the "globalisation of the movement of the people". She hoped that there would be "many more demonstrations like this". As a lawyer, though, her emphasis was on the need to defend asylum-seekers through the courts. A refugee from Iraq gave an illuminating example of the level of desperation felt by himself and fellow refugees in Plymouth: after waiting three years for a decision from the home office they could take no more and went on hunger strike, camping outside the immigration office for nearly a week - enduring not only hunger, but abuse from passers-by (Plymouth was described as Britain's "deep south"). He did not say whether he and fellow hunger-strikers won their asylum claims. An Anti-Nazi League representative explained that "we have to stand together to stop the Nazis like Le Pen and Griffin" (he also referred to the home secretary as Le Blunkett). He did not elaborate on the methods to be employed, but past tactics of the ANL do offer a worrying clue. A speaker from Scotland pointed out that Sighthill, where the Scottish Socialist Party led a campaign to end racial violence, was the "first place where asylum-seekers and the local community have worked together" after the brutal murder of a refugee. By far the most interesting of the speeches was that of Etienne, from Paris. He spoke of the need to unify the struggle to defend refugees over Europe with an "emancipatory, anti-capitalist perspective" - clearly an opinion worth building upon, and more concrete than simply standing in the street shouting at 'Nazis', à  la ANL. However, the organisers' main slogan, 'Asylum-seekers welcome here', in my view summed up the political shortcomings that marred the event - it was desperation, not emancipation. According to Socialist Worker, a poll released last week "showed that most people are 'broadly sympathetic' to asylum-seekers ... They are four times more likely to display a positive rather than negative attitude towards this group" (June 22). The poll's source is not quoted - it would appear to run against most other polls, and is something that would strongly contradict my own experiences. A bit of a reality check is needed. If we do not honestly assess the political situation, how are we going to change it? The problem with implying that all asylum-seekers and would-be immigrants are fleeing political repression, and are therefore 'deserving cases' who must be welcomed, is that it does nothing to challenge the dominant bourgeois ideology of national chauvinism. Many simply want a better life - and good luck to them. But it seems that capital has the god-given right to control the flow of labour and all we can do is plead for special cases. The Socialist Alliance should be taking the lead in calling for open borders, as part of a broader programme of revolutionary socialism. While the Socialist Workers Party supports this demand in formal terms, as Saturday's demonstration showed, in practice it prefers the politics of wishful thinking. Its inadequacy is there for all to see. Mark Lusted